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charitable places in America

Just 24% of taxpayers reported a charitable gift on their tax returns in 2015, according to a study from “The Chronicle of Philanthropy.” That’s down from a decade earlier when that figure routinely reached 30%. And though fewer people may be giving out of the good of their hearts and working with a financial advisor to use these contributions to reduce their tax liabilities, Americans in certain places are punching above their weight in generosity.

In order to find the most charitable places in America, we looked at data on two factors. We examined the percent of tax returns with any income that had a charitable donation. We also then looked at the total amount donated as charitable contributions and compared it to the total amount of income reported on tax returns. To see where we got our data and for a more detailed description of how we created this study, check out our data and methodology below.

Key Findings

  • Utahns show the way – Three Utah metro areas cracked this top 10. The Provo, Ogden and Salt Lake City metro areas all donated enough to charity to claim a top-10 spot. One potential explanation for why Utah stood out as a charitable state is its faith. This state is one of the most religious in the nation, according to Pew research.
  • The South also scores well – Other than Utah, it is metro areas in the South that rank highly in this study. They include Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Birmingham, Alabama.

charitable places

1. Provo-Orem, UT

The Provo-Orem, Utah metro area leads the way. This is a great area for people looking for new career opportunities. But Provo is more than that. This metro area embodies the spirit of giving. According to data from the IRS, just under 35% of tax returns with income have charitable contributions. Those charitable donations are more than token gestures as well. Our data shows that Provo-Orem ranks first for percent of income donated to charity.

2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California comes in second with two top-10 scores. According to our data, just over 34% of taxpayers in this buzzing metro area donate to a charitable cause. For that metric, this metro area ranks seventh. In terms of income, however, the San Jose metro area loses a bit of ground. This metro area only donates 3.9% of its income to charity, placing it three spots behind Provo.

3. Ogden-Clearfield, UT

Ogden-Clearfield, Utah is the second of three Utah metro areas to crack this top 10. Roughly one-third of tax returns claim contributions to some charity, a top-15 rate. The reason Ogden-Clearfield takes a podium spot is because of the large size of charitable donations. Nearly 5% of income here goes to charities. For that metric, Ogden ranks third.

4. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA

Our first non-Western metro area is Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, Georgia. This metro area came in third with charitable contributions equal to 3.5% of total income. In dollar terms that means roughly $6.4 billion in charitable donations given by Atlanta tax payers. Atlanta falls to fourth due to the relatively few generous hearts in the city. Atlanta ranked 17th in percent of tax returns with charitable contributions.

5. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT

Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut is New England’s only representative in the top 10. This metro area is in one sense the antithesis to Atlanta. While a significant minority of Bridgeport tax returns have charitable contributions on them, the charitable contributions are not very large relative to income. This metro area ranks 30th for percent of income going to charitable contributions.

6. (tie) Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

The metro area surrounding the nation’s capital comes in tied for sixth. Nearly two out of every five tax returns here include some kind of charitable giving. That equals to roughly 1.2 million tax payers giving some money to charity. In total, they donated about $6.9 billion between them. That leaves this metro area in 35th for charitable donations as a percent of income.

6. (tie) Salt Lake City, UT

Utah’s capital took the sixth spot. It is perhaps no surprise that many people here donate to charitable causes. This city is home to many devout followers of the Church of Latter Day Saints. In total, about 156,000 tax returns had contributions to charitable causes in them. That is equal to roughly 30% of tax returns with income, only the 31st highest-rate. Where Salt Lake City shines is in size of donations. Charitable contributions equal about 3.8% of income, the fifth-highest rate.

8. Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD

Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, Maryland comes in just behind the two metros tied for sixth. Like in nearby Washington, D.C., it is common to see charitable contributions on Baltimore residents’ tax returns. This metro area ranked third for percent of residents giving to charitable causes. If the Baltimore area wants to climb the rankings in this study, its residents could try increasing the size of their donations. This area ranks 34th for charitable contributions compared to local income.

9. (tie) Raleigh, NC

The final two metros are tied in ninth. Raleigh, North Carolina claimed a top 10 spot due to the large number of people making contributions. IRS data reveals that 191,250 Raleigh tax returns had charitable contributions in them, which is about 32.7% of all tax returns with income. Raleigh fell a bit short in the size of its residents’ donations. This city ranked 33rd in percent of income going to charitable contributions.

9. (tie) Birmingham-Hoover, AL

The final metro area on this list is Birmingham-Hoover, Alabama. Residents here tended to donate large chunks of their income, on average. IRS data shows that roughly 3.7% of Birmingham residents’ income went to charitable causes. However not everyone in Birmingham made charitable contributions. This metro ranked 40th in percent of tax returns with charitable contributions.

charitable places

Data and Methodology

In order to find the most charitable metro areas we looked at the largest 200 metro areas measured by number of tax returns. We then ranked them using the following two metrics:

  • Charitable contributions as a percent of income. This is the total amount of charitable contributions divided by the total amount of income reported in that metro area.
  • Percent of tax returns reporting charitable contributions. This is the percent of all tax returns with charitable contributions divided by the percent of all tax returns with income.

All data comes from the Internal Revenue Service and is for 2015.

First, we ranked each metro area in each metric. Then we found each metro area’s average ranking giving equal weight to each metric. Using this average ranking we created our final score. The metro area with the best average ranking received a final score of 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for Managing Your Savings

  • Invest your savings – If you have some surplus money at the end of the tax year, it’s a good idea to store it somewhere safe. Savings accounts are a good idea in general but not all savings accounts are the same. If you are looking for the best returns check out saving accounts at online-only institutions like Ally or Synchrony. Alternatively if you struggle with temptation and are not sure you can avoid cashing out your savings accounts, try out certificates of deposit (CDs).
  • Talk to an expert – No matter your financial situation, whether you have plenty of money to donate to charitable causes or are just getting by trying to build up a down payment for a home, receiving expert advice from financial advisor is an intelligent move. If you are not sure where to find a financial advisor check out SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool. It will match you with up to three local financial advisors who fit your investing needs.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com. 

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Steve Debenport

 

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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